IT Should Get Naked - InformationWeek

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Commentary
3/17/2015
01:35 PM
Romi Mahajan
Romi Mahajan
Commentary
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IT Should Get Naked

To drive real change, IT must shed its invisibility and engage with the organization's politics and culture.

Running IT in a transparent and accountable fashion -- with regard to finances, investments, operations, and personnel -- is desirable in any business. In this regard, IT is no different from any other part of the organization, save perhaps "skunkworks" projects and R&D.

But to much of the organization, including the CEO, IT looks opaque, or even invisible. Executives know that IT spends (spending is loud) but what IT produces -- the day-to-day functioning of essential business systems -- is often unknown because those results are quiet.

Things just work, and no one outside of IT gives a thought to why or how. Most great IT departments power the business day after day and don't boast of their feats, unlike sales and marketing folks (I can say this because I'm a marketer).

Many CIOs enjoy this invisibility. They like running their own worlds, from hiring to finances, and would prefer not to call too much attention to themselves. After all, just doing your job and producing good work without the encumbrance of politics or engagement with the corporate culture can be a comfort.

The problem, however, is that this isolation limits the CIO's ability to truly transform the business.

Invisibility or opacity leads to misperceptions about IT and "the business" being separate entities, not as parts of the same organic whole. These misperceptions keep IT out of planning and business processes. They encourage other departments to bypass, rather than engage with, IT.

So the real test of the CIO and the IT department in toto is whether they are willing and eager to drop the veil. This can bring collaboration and empathy, but also scrutiny and criticism. In that sense, the decision to do so involves cultural and emotional elements as much as it does business factors.

Either way it's a journey. Some call it Technology Business Management (TBM). Others refer to it as aligning IT with Business. Whatever you call it, openness to scrutiny makes for better leaders. It's time for IT to show a little skin -- and then put it in the game.

Join Romi at Interop Las Vegas for the panel Diversity in IT and the Myth of the Talent Gap, which will discuss IT's lack of diversity and offer practical tools IT managers can use to make sure they don't overlook talented candidates.

Romi Mahajan is the founder of KKM Group, a boutique marketing and strategy advisory firm. He is also an Interop track chair for the "Business of IT" track. He spent nine years at Microsoft and was the first CMO of Ascentium, an award-winning digital agency. Romi has also ... View Full Bio
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TechPsychSoc
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TechPsychSoc,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/17/2015 | 5:58:39 AM
Utility versus creativity
Does the business even care about IT in that way? In my view, most business folk want IT (the underlying infrastructural stuff) to be invisble. There could no sensible article in Office Heating Weekly entitled "Office Heating Should Get Naked". The IT infrastructure is similarly a utility to most folks in the business.

However I think there is a definite difference between utility-like IT infrastructure, and front-end, sexy IT. New technologies that offer business advantage and ways in which to automate and improve productivity are perhaps what the business is more interested in. That is, the innovative, developmental and creative use/side of technology.

This split may be why the business listens when marketing shouts, and not when IT tries the same about its utility acheivements. Marketing is all about improvements, the future, new wins and not the status quo. In my view that's the way to engage the business.

If you're really interested, you could read a blog I wrote on this subject. Search for "Techpsychsoc Tomorrow's People: A Sketch of a Post-Mechanistic IT Service Department" on Google.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
3/22/2015 | 10:52:06 PM
Re: Past CIO's: Encounters of the Worst Kind
I don't think all CIO's are weak, however the managers under them are weak and this causes repercussion at the higher levels when lower level managers fail to deliver. Bad CIO is a problem, but bringing a good CIO with the same existing bad managers is a greater problem.
pfretty
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pfretty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/20/2015 | 1:42:05 PM
Absolutely
If IT ever hopes to enjoy a role of being a transformative leader, its crucial to take noticeable action. According to a recent IDG CSC survey, IT executives recognize the urgent need for digital transformation and finally have the funds they need to increase investments in next-generation technologies capable of driving disruptive change. 

To sustain that momentum and cement their position as strategic leaders, however, CIOs must make further headway in their long-running efforts to decrease operational overhead and establish closer, more collaborative and strategic relationships with the C-suite and line-of-business managers. Technology partners can help with those goals, by empowering IT leaders to enhance efficiency and harness the innovative power of today's latest technologies. Peter Fretty, IDG blogger working on behalf of CSC.

RMAHAJAN000
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RMAHAJAN000,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/18/2015 | 1:45:26 PM
Re: Past CIO's: Encounters of the Worst Kind
I hear you on weak CIOs. I've never had that issue (in marketing ;-) but that is indeed a horrible place to be not to mention bad business. If we believe IT runs the biz then a bad CIO makes for a bad biz!!!

 

Romi
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
3/18/2015 | 1:39:05 PM
Past CIO's: Encounters of the Worst Kind

Thank you Romi for exposing the chief issue for IT IMO.  Perception and IT's role in the formation of it.

I really like the role of CIO and feel it is of course necessary, but it has to be understood that this is a leadership role.  I did not say dictator, but leader.  

This person is the one who is to form the importance of IT in the minds of the Upper Mgt.  If they do a poor job of this ( which is often the case) then the entire department suffers.

Have you worked under a weak CIO ?   I have and more than one. And it is no fun.   Just thinking about this is making me upset, because most CIO's are poster boys and girls for CYA today. And even if they are "introducing something new" - it is just some upgrade on an existing MS product.  What a joke. 

I have not encountered one throughout my career who has ever been worth a damn.

It is as you say - Time to be a Man or Woman and stop worrying about paying your mortgage.

I have acquiesced to CIO's in the past but those days are over, I will no longer allow them to paint me indirectly or directly as the passive, feeble moron that most of them are. 

Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
3/18/2015 | 8:05:15 AM
IT Crowd?
I really was waiting for there to be some joke about the IT Crowd's "relationship manager" in this piece, but it never came!

I do like the idea of being more appreciated for IT work however. Making it happen is a challenging prospect though. 
RMAHAJAN000
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RMAHAJAN000,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/17/2015 | 11:05:03 PM
Re: IT Should Get Naked
Hi, incredible comments.  At the outset, you are 100% correct when you state that the top-down model doesn't work.  Totalitarian orgs don't create sensible cultures.  Yes, the idea of IT-non IT alignment comes up often because the idea is considered "obvious" and is given lip service but then people go back to their day to day jobs replete with the blame-others game.

Diversity- agree. IT needs to be far more diverse across the spectrum...how else will ideas germinate and grow?  Monocultures have proven to be ineffective!

Thanks so much for your insights.

Romi
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
3/17/2015 | 5:55:50 PM
Re: IT Should Get Naked
The interesting thing is, Romi, that this is advice we've been hearing in one form or another for a long time. Especially as 'aligning more closely with the business', it's been an IT mantra for as long as I can remember, but more recently with tangible trends like Agile and DevOps. Yet, it seems many businesses still have yet to make the 'big switch' over to this way of thinking, or have not achieved full comfort with it yet.  That's where your point about cultural shifts rings very true. The order can't just come from the top down, it has to involve real, organic co-operation between real people. I've heard embedding IT specialists in other departments who answer to the CIO as well as collaborating with each other on how to connect the departments using IT as one way to accomplish this, but I suppose smaller companies will have to look to other methods.

Still, we're left with the point that this topic seems to come up again and again every few years. Why do you think that is? I tend to think there's a difference between the cutting edge and what most enterprises are ready for, thinking again about things like DevOps, Big Data, or IoT that will allow direct connections between IT and  the business (and I consider that okay). Is that all it is? Is it normal that different industries might move towards this goal at different speeds? I noticed your panel at Interop is about Diversity in IT - do you consider that topic related to this one? Business folks might be more eager to collaborate with IT if they saw more diversity - moreover, in shunning those from non-IT backgrounds (IE Marketing) when hiring, IT pros may be indirectly discriminating against demographics that are more likely to come from there (IE women and older folks), causing stagnation.
RMAHAJAN000
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RMAHAJAN000,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/17/2015 | 4:38:38 PM
Re: Opportunities to show how IT powers other lines of business

Hi! I agree fully and wrote about something similar here- https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/2008.12.fieldnotessynergy.aspx

IT and Marketing have so much in common it's actually incredible; I think making common cause would help both advance and help the business as a whole as well!

Romi

Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
3/17/2015 | 3:26:26 PM
Opportunities to show how IT powers other lines of business
Coming from the marketing side of things myself, I think one great opportunity for IT to get some time in the limelight comes from aligning with marketing on new systems, as often marketing looks to new solutions and technologies to give them more tools for their arsenal.  By aligning with IT to help them deliver these new marketing services, they can also share the successes behind how these new services came to light, and how particularly, IT enables them.
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